Flute is the brainchild of Rod Fountain and Mary Dorrington Ward who sold their thriving furniture dealership in 2008 to create a new business focussed on the idea of fulfilling customer needs by using only sustainable materials and methodologies. They had been inspired to act after some of their multi-national and government clients began to demonstrate a growing desire to become more environmentally friendly, more carbon aware, and generally more sustainable. Their existing supply chain could not respond to the challenge so the partners decided to create a fresh, vibrant business to meet these new customer demands using the emerging circular economy as a guiding light. After initial experimentation with ten different materials, cardboard was chosen as the feedstock for the early pioneering design work. It was low cost, available in abundance, and has structural and aesthetic qualities that inspired the founders.
Working with materials scientists, structural engineers and product designers, an intense period of research an development culminated in the launch of the Paperweight Desk to critical acclaim in 2011. The desk, made from waste cardboard fibres, was bought by customers including Hearst Magazines, The London School of Communication Arts, Johnson Controls, Serco, and Coca Cola. The product was featured in mainstream media such as Esquire, Elle Decoration, Living Etc, Country Living, the London Evening Standard and the FT, and it was glowingly reviewed by furniture industry bloggers and design web sites around the world.
Thus encouraged, Rod and Mary began a careful expansion of the business by recruiting additional staff and establishing a makeshift factory in converted farm buildings in Ockley, Surrey. Additional private investment enabled them to expand the product range and the diversity of waste fibre materials used to make the products. In 2013 the all new FlutePRO workstation was launched. Tested by the Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA) it passed the British and European standards for safety, strength, stability and flame retardancy and in June 2013 FIRA presented its prestigious innovation award to the founders at a ceremony at the House of Lords.
Research into waste fibre technology continued apace and the company was awarded a £100k grant from the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK) towards R&D in improved material performance and jointing techniques. The customer base continued to expand, with Costa Coffee, BskyB, Deloitte, Mace, M&S, and six NHS trusts all signing up to Flute’s innovative waste-to-value proposition. The new £40m Dyson School of Design Engineering at Imperial College London named Flute it’s first framework supplier. Rapidly increasing customer demand and the announcement in December 2015 by the European Commission of its long awaited circular economy programme signalled the need for a step change in the scale of the business. Series A funding of £2m was secured from public and private sector investors to enable the first phase of scale-up.
In June 2016 Flute opened its centre of excellence in upcycling of waste fibre at the Rock Business Park in Washington, West Sussex, and a large scale production facility at the Discovery Park enterprise zone in Sandwich, Kent. By September production was averaging 2,000 units a week of products including desks, storage units, recycling consoles, partitions, signage, wall systems, and even table tennis tables. The customer base was expanding rapidly and Flute opened its first office outside the UK in partnership with two Dutch entrepreneurs Marc van der Heijden and Martijn Vinke. Within weeks the new venture had signed PostNL – the Dutch postal service – as its first customer.